obscurity of the unsaid

Mon, 11 Apr 1994 23:52:26 EDT

/* this may or may not be applicable to anthropology which for all i know */
/* may be perfect, relatively speaking. please read the lines in angle */
/* brackets following my signature at the end if nothing else. thank you. */
Last Wednesday was the weekly Sociology Department Colloquium, which is
no longer weekly anymore, and which I hardly ever attend because firstly I
have lost my former appetite for the free pizza; seconly because I am in
hiding thanks to which, according to my alternate-weekly Shrink, Dr L, the
Soc Dept Chair, Prof Andrea Tyree, said that Complaints about me had
"drastically declined," raising the depressing prospect that Complaints
do persist, albeit at reduced level, based on sheer imagination. But this
time, the topic was in the Sociology of Science, an Explaining Industry with,
as previously noted, considerable growth potential. The speaker, Tom Phelan,
is full-time Director of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Computerized
Instructional Laboratory, the DATALAB, this room; despite this onerous time-
consuming job, he'd at last managed to finish his dissertattion. Would he or
wouldn't he tell the Merton Dissertation story? He did.

In Robert K. Merton's doctoral dissertation, since become a classic of the
sociology of science, there is a case made for attributing the florescence of
English science in the seventeenth century to the religious hence more broadly
and pervasively *cultural* influence of Puritanism in shaping formally rational
thought, in accordance with Weber's thesis of the rationality-conducive
properties of "religious ethics," in whose terms Calvinism does better than
Lutheranism, which in turn does better than Roman Catholicism. When I sat in
on Prof Steven Cole's Sociology of Science seminar, I wrote an eight-page
paper pointing out the omission from Merton's analysis of the English
Revolution, 1640-1649, and the ensuing Commonwealth, 1649-1660, wherein
Puritanism was ideologically hegemonic but was not exclusively contributory
to rationalization of the state and the previously and subsequently Established
Church-related, and archaic, higher-educational system: The rationalization
of obsolete forms of state finance, military organization, laws of land
tenure and other institutional underbrush obstructing or obfuscating more
"modern" and "capitalistic," in our terms, emergent developments, previously
politically stifled, were now backed by forces proven victorious in the test
of civil war, and backed by a political regime bent on its own perpetuation
and offering careers in its service to the politico-ideologically reliable.

The Restoration of Charles II in 1660 could not possibly have restored
the intellectual and institutional *status quo ante*, whatever the inclinations
of dissolute, cynical, lazy Charles II, who to the contrary founded the Royal
Society in 1667, to which the scientific-philosophical elite, formerly
Roundhead, predominantly adapted. One reason should empathetically suggest
itself: Budget cuts. The Royalists, to the great joy of landlords (including
former Roundhead purchasers of onetime confiscated or sequestered lands of
Royalists but left in possession by Charles II to preclude insecurity and
legal chaos), slashed the taxes used to support Cromwell's army; and where
almost alone the scientific community was subsidized (in the generalized
contraction of military power and efficacious revenue collection), political
passions - in bad taste along with religious "enthusiasm" - ceased, slightly
reversed, or vastly attenuated.

The overlong exposition above is intended to highlight a general problem
of sociologists' emphasis on independent social causality attributed to
religion by sociologists who, themselves, are unbelievers, indifferently
religiously observant, or at most at the secularist-moderatist end of the
continuum of religious belief, where Fundamentalism is the other.

Tom Phelan also found, in a study using aggregate statistics from 96 diff-
erent countries, that *even controlling for average income or standard of
living, Protestant countries manufacture more scientists in relation to
Steve Cole had by now returned from Australia and recovered from jet lag.
"What's a rich Catholic Country," I asked.
"How about Italy."
"Pretty nouveau for a riche country, don'tcha think?"

The next example is Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capital-
ism, assigned to all sociology majors, in translation by Talcott Parsons (who
indeed was credited with excavation of the text from Weber's lifetime of debris
with the assistance of the longsuffering Marianne Weber (whose best friend was
the dubious beneficiary of Max's only known act of coition in his life). The
edition contains a table of fake, misleading, bigoted, downright propagandist
figured. These show differential attendance of Protestant vs Catholic pupils
at the new state-fostered technical schools versus more old-fashioned,
classicist-emphasizing *gymnazien*. The date of the figures was, I think, 1878;
a later date would not affect the charges.

During the 1870s, the Bismarckian Hohenzollern Empire conducted the
*Kulturkampf*, Culture Struggle, euphemizing persecution of the Roman Catholic
Church, whose percentage of the population had expanded too much to the liking
of the regime thanks to the incorporation of the South German states. The
innovative educational policies giving rise to the new technical schools were
part and parcel of the Kulturkampf as a whole; the regime built the schools
were the Protestants lived, notably in the Rhineland, which is the region used
to illustrate the point by quantitative presentation. With substantial numbers
of Protestants, but an overall majority of Catholics, the Protestants were
concentrated in the (industrializing) cities; the Catholics in rural areas
where many were yet smalltime peasants or tenants. Disadvantaged to start
with, the Catholics were further humiliated by statisticalized propaganda
portraying them as backward due to clinging to an inferior religion.

Maria Vogel, a historical sociologist and an excellent one who knows modern
European history cold, was assigned Undergraduate Theory one year, and knows
perfectly well what the *Kulturkampf* was. When it came to The Protestant
Ethic, inevitably a required text, which do we predict as social scientists won
out, her sociology or her history? The former. There was an intellectual
membrane in the mind of one particular sociologist, of thousands of other
sociologists, through which facts of complex historical causation cannot pass
which are destructive to the grand sweep of theory, that of Marx as well as
that of Weber or that of Durkheim. Those who love the first of this Trinity
will, nevertheless, respect the other two, covering up the seamy sides (Weber's
racism, eg, "Why, it is only thanks to us that the Poles are human beings!" or
Durkheim's abstinence from the Dreyfusard cause - one late petition-signing
excepted - due to his revanchist militarism; also his appalling patriarchal
sexism) and the more general problem, Marx excepted, of the superficiality
of the theoretical works of the Classical Sociological Theorists.

The membrane clearly is in place in Talcott Parsons' The Structure of Social
Action, 1939; there is simply no intimation that religion as a socially
causative factor is historically relative. (The book is on my lap and I'm
searching for a counterexample, but no luck yet.)

What had happend was, as I previously mentioned on ANTHRO-L, in the carving
up of the social-science episteme, analogous to the Scramble For Africa at
about the same time, sociology got relegated the leavings and pickings after
the choice bits went to the Great Powers (Economics and Political Science):
Religion, education, sex (when nobody wanted anything to do with it and the
sociologists had to call it Marriage and the Family), deviance and crime, and
that other unspeakable word, class (which had to be called social stratifica-
tion). Also, in claiming the respectability of science, sociology committed
itself to the ideal of the nomothetic, abhorring the idiographic, or rather
compromises made therewith, commitments of anthropology and history.

Given the oddly assorted collection of graveyards remaindered for exclusive
preoccupations of sociologists, one of these had to be made to yield numbers,
a variable of vast importance somehow, which could be shown to be if not the
prime mover, then everpresent in general social causation and cohesion. Emile
Durkheim provided one version of the religious mystique by writing The Elemen-
tary Forms of the Religious Life about the anthropological part of the social-
evolutionary continuum; and at the more contemporary, hence more sociological,
proper, end, demonstrating varing rates of suicide by religious belief and
degree of same, in Suicide, 1895. Weber provided the alternative variant:

"The general upshot is the thesis that at the relevant stages in the devel-
opment of cultures the material conditions in China, India, Judea compared
favorably, from the point of view of capitalistic-bureaucratic potentiali-
ties, with those of our own medieval and early modern times, while in each
culture the 'economic ethic' of the dominant religious tradition concerned
was directly antagonistic to such a development. On the other hand, in
Protestantism (to a less extent in Christianity as a whole) the economic
ethic was directly favorable. This conclusion confirms the functional re-
lationship between Protestantism and capitalism. Furthermore, on the one
hand, it decreases the probability that the spirit of capitalism is merely
a reflection of the material conditions, in other words, is a dependent
variable and, on the other hand, it increases the probability that a main
differentiating element lies on the value plane. This is a perfectly valid
scientific method provided, of course, that Weber's allegations of fact
are correct." (Parsons, Structure of Social Action, p. 513)

Is the kind of mentality committed to this position going to be inflamed
with the cognitive passion to seek out any and all indications that Weber's
allegations of fact were not correct? Or that, maybe yes, at times and up
to a point, the pervasive motivational calculus in a certain stratum in a
socially stratified and occupationally differentiated society will make a
very large difference compared to elsewhere elsewhen. (We have not even
bothered to consider the possibilities of the uses whereto spritual-causation
sociology could be put in the struggle-to-the-death between godless atheistic
Communism and the religiously-believing-if-tolerant-of-any-sufficiently-old-
faith, democratic, free-enterprising Free World. "Faith changes things," said
the slogan; and indeed to the pledge of allegiance to the armenian flag was
added, in 1953, the words "under God." It was at this time that Parsonianism
became Orthodoxy in sociology, and the utterly incomprehensible gibberish of
The Social System, 1955, supplanted the near-English of The Structure of Social

The point is that incomprehensibility is not an independent variable. What
may be unreadable is so because powerful vested interests conspire to keep
texts in that condition where the strong possibility that the central dogmas
and eternal truths, however unstated or implicit or even plausibly deniable
may nevertheless be *falsified* is too strong to be risked. Meanwhile, an
academic discipline whereof it is demanded that it's practitioners be Explain-
ers, even of other academic disciplines, and there is nothing at all in the
known universe without a corresponding Sociology Of, may be diverted to uses
of the most mendacious, trivialized, or power-manipulated sort. (One final
note about the 1950s: This period marks the apogee of portentous vagueness
in sociogibberish, wherefrom the reputation of sociology has still not fully
recovered despite stupendous improvement in intellectual caliber. In those
days, one dared not say that something was X, but hedged with the *nebulosity
qualiefier* "-oriented," hence something was X-oriented; or -patterned; or

Sociology may have never been taken seriously, as sociologists complain,
but when the incomprehensible occurs even to those who are doing it, it is
to sociological lingo that people turn. I note that the entire feminist
discourse which has penetrated into common speech, such as gender role
stereotypes, role models, networking, affinity group or consciousness-
raising group, sexual orientation (given what is euphemized, the nebulosity
qualifier was inevitable), and more, is proof. The Right even boasts its
"family values," the second word I recoall from Soc 101 waybackwhen (after
"norms". Apparently, by analogy with the marketplace for the circulation
of commodities, Weber posited a marketplace for things of the spirit, which
could be high or low in value; but these values cannot be measured. One
measures attitudes. There are five definitions of attitudes which every
graduate student memorizes, then forgets until necessity for transmission
to the next generation occurs).

For every theory of social life, there is something omitted. This places
the theory in terms of the social determinants of Knowledge. Don't look at
the doughnut, look at the hole. The hole defines the doughnut.

Daniel A. Foss
<Any publisher intent on selling dead cellulose encourages the ferocity of
book editors. Any sufficiently terrifying and intimidating editor can make
the worst-written text readable. Any author intent on being understood will
yield. Failure of this to occur must be accounted for.>